SCARECROW COUNTY *** USA 2019 Dir: John Oak Dalton. 73 Mins
A character-driven slasher film from the writer-director of THE GIRL IN THE CRAWLSPACE and featuring two of its stars. It opens in conventional slasher territory, with a guy trying to convince his gal to play “Strip Ouija” before their ill-advised séance is interrupted by a pitchfork-wielding scarecrow. The focus is on the minutiae of an economically struggling small town with a sinister history. Old-timers mumble about Three Dog Night and how things were “back in the day”. Local librarian Winnie (Chelsi Kern) gets hold of a journal of a teen who committed suicide, a development that triggers a chain reaction at the town’s highest levels.
Meanwhile, her agoraphobic sister Zoe (Rachael Redolfi) is a lonely comic artist who has become a tad too attached to her work, to the point where she interacts with one of her characters. Eventually, the scarecrow shows up to bump off the older residents harbouring punishable secrets related to the fate of the young man. This offers an authentic portrait of a ghost town stuck in the past and beset with broken families, enduring grudges and people who should have moved on to bigger things…and know it.
There are some nicely judged performances, though the dialogue-heavy script won’t be to all tastes: there are lots of telephone conversations and the kill scenes when they arrive are discreetly off-camera. The second half has engagingly familiar blinkered characters as the bodycount rachets up (“seems a careless way to go – he was using a table saw…”), dialogue nodding to FRIDAY THE 13TH and moments of eerie atmosphere in the scarecrow scenes. The climax boldly shirks a conventional confrontation / bloodbath in favour of emotional revelations and family reunions, confirming Dalton’s sincere, idiosyncratic approach and matching the tone of what has gone before.
Review by Steven West
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